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Democrat Senators publish a deeply disturbing and profoundly racist report about Russia

Alexander Mercouris

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In the aftermath of Russiagate a group of Democratic Party Senators have published one of the most bizarre and disturbing reports ever to issue from the US Senate.

The best way to summarise it is to say that it takes every single charge which has ever been made against Vladimir Putin and Russia and repeats them whilst ignoring any evidence which contradicts them.

The whole dreary catalogue is there: the 1999 Moscow apartment bombings, the Khodorkovsky prosecutions, the Politkovskaya and Litvinenko murders, the Magnitsky affair, Putin’s billions, Chechnya, the 2008 South Ossetia war, Crimea, the Ukrainian conflict, the state sponsorship of organised crime, the use of gas exports as a political weapon, the malign influence of RT and Sputnik, the sponsorship of extreme right groups in Europe, the Russian role in the Brexit vote, and even the Russian Olympic doping scandal.

To anyone accustomed to reading articles about Vladimir Putin and Russia in such places as the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Economist and the Guardian, it is all very familiar.  Indeed at times the report reads like an extended version of one of those articles.

In every case Vladimir Putin is the villain of the piece, demonically plotting to destroy democracy both in Russia and the West for reasons which incidentally are never made wholly clear.

As examples of where the report ignores contradictory evidence in order to make its case I will cite just five examples amongst the many others which could be made:

(1) The report claims that no-one has ever “credibly” claimed responsibility for the 1999 Moscow apartment bombings.

To this day, no credible source has ever claimed credit for the bombings and no credible evidence has been presented by the Russian authorities linking Chechen terrorists, or anyone else, to the Moscow bombings. As the public polling results show, there is still considerable doubt

The report says this in order to support its claim that Vladimir Putin and the Russian security services were actually responsible for the bombings.

However this is simply not true.  The Chechen and Jihadi warlord Shamil Basayev and his Saudi associate Al-Khattab made quite clear who was responsible for the bombings in comments made shortly after they took place, linking the bombings quite clearly to the ongoing conflict in the Russian Caucasian republic of Dagestan, which they had just invaded with a volunteer army of Jihadi fighters.

Here is how Wikipedia reports their comments

Commenting on the attacks, Shamil Basayev said: “The latest blast in Moscow is not our work, but the work of the Dagestanis. Russia has been openly terrorizing Dagestan, it encircled three villages in the centre of Dagestan, did not allow women and children to leave.”[35] Al-Khattab, who was reportedly close with Basayev, said the attacks were a response to what the Russians had done in Karamakhi and Chabanmakhi, two Dagestani villages where followers of the Wahhabi sect were living until the Russian army bombed them out.[39] A group called the Liberation army of Dagestan claimed responsibility for the apartment bombings.[39][40][41][42]

The “Liberation Army of Dagestan” is now widely acknowledged to be one and the same as the Islamic Army of Dagestan formed by Basayev and Al-Khattab in 1999 to attack Dagestan.

There is no doubt that Jihadi terrorists were responsible for the Moscow apartment bombings.  As the report rather grudgingly acknowledges many of those involved in the bombings were subsequently rounded up and put on trial for the bombings by the Russian authorities.

The outcome of the trials has never to my knowledge been challenged by the European Court of Human Rights which has the jurisdiction to do so and which would no doubt have done so if there had been anything about the trials which was obviously wrong.

All the major participants in the bombings have been identified and are known and it is or should be a fringe conspiracy theory to allege that Putin and the Russian authorities were responsible for them.

It is nonetheless that fringe conspiracy theory which the Democratic Senators have adopted for their report.

(2) The report repeats the common Western charge that the Russian billionaire oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky was arrested and persecuted because of his political activities

Putin and his allies have neutered political competition by creating rubber-stamp opposition parties and harassing legitimate opposition. For example, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the founder of the Russian oil company Yukos, was imprisoned for more than a decade on a spate of charges deemed to be politically motivated.

His prosecution could be broadly interpreted as a signal to other powerful oligarchs that supporting independent or anti-Putin parties carries great risk to one’s personal wealth and well-being.

This ignores the fact the European Court of Human Rights – the court with the authority to pronounce on this issue – has repeatedly said in a lengthy succession of Judgments that Khodorkovsky was convicted and imprisoned not because of his political activities but because he carried out a gigantic tax fraud – just as the Russian authorities have said – and that the case against him was not therefore brought for political reasons as the report says.

(3) The report repeats the charge that President Putin did away with direct election of governors in 2004 as part of a cynical power-grab

In 2004, Putin ‘‘radically restructured’’ the Russian political system by eliminating the election of regional governors by popular vote in favor of centrally directed appointments, characterizing this significant power grab as an effort to forge ‘‘national cohesion’’ in the wake of the terrorist attack at a school in Beslan in North Ossetia.

This ignores the fact that in 2012 direct election of governors was brought back again, something which the report never mentions.

It is fair to say that this reversal of the supposed “radical restructuring” of the Russian political system which took place in 2004 has not led to the dramatic changes in political conditions in Russia that some expected.

However that points to the underlying truth about the supposedly “radical restructuring” which supposedly took place in 2004: it wasn’t radical at all.

Though it is true that in 2004 Putin assumed the power to appoint governors to Russian regions, these appointments had to be approved by the parliament of the region to which the governor was appointed.

In practise regional parliaments showed no interest in challenging Putin’s nominees, just as regional electorates have shown little interest in the gubernational elections which were reintroduced in 2012, which almost always result in Putin’s nominees being elected.

This points to the political reality in Russia today.  As is the case in most countries – including by the way the US – there is scant interest in politics at a regional level, whilst the reason Russia is politically stable is not because of the country’s institutional structure – which is its internal affair – but because the government is popular and enjoys legitimacy.

(4) The report gives an extraordinarily elliptical and mendacious account of the causes of the 2008 South Ossetia war

Leading up to August 2008, tensions had been growing in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, regions that had been contested since Georgia’s independence in 1991. South Ossetian separatists shelled Georgian villages in early August, which led to the deployment of the Georgian military to the area.417 The Russian military responded by pushing the Georgian troops out of South Ossetia with a heavy assault of tanks.418 It soon became clear that the Russian attack was not limited to just conventional military means, but was much more comprehensive in scope

This completely ignores the fact that the EU’s Independent Fact Finding Mission Report headed by the Swiss lawyer Heidi Tagliavini, though making severe criticisms of Russia’s conduct during the war, nonetheless concluded that it was Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili not Russia who started the war.

As it happens Vladimir Putin was away in Beijing attending the 2008 Summer Olympics at the time when the war started.  That is hardly consistent with him planning or indeed expecting the war to start when it did.

(5) The report in a lengthy appendix discussing the Russian Olympic doping scandal treats the Russian government’s involvement in the doping of Russian athletes as proved.  However the International Olympic Committee’s own investigation of this claim says quite clearly that it has not been proved.  See my detailed discussion here.

These are just five examples taken at random where the report simply ignores contrary evidence in order to make its case.

Anyone willing to plough through the 200 plus pages of the report is welcome to do so if they wish to find others.

The report is also characterised by some quite remarkable leaps of logic.

For example the fact that President Putin and Russia are extremely popular in Bulgaria is President Putin’s and Russia’s fault.  President Putin and Russia are also somehow to blame for the fact that there is massive corruption in Ukraine.

Presumably President Putin and Russia should be working to make themselves unpopular in Bulgaria, and presumably they also control Ukraine’s anti-corruption endeavours and are responsible for their failure despite the intense hostility to Russia of the current Ukrainian government.

The report in fact harps on the subject of “Russian corruption” to a frankly unhinged degree.

Not only are Putin and Russia corrupt but they ‘export’ corruption everywhere so that corruption wherever it happens whether in Ukraine or elsewhere is caused by them.

By way of example the political conflict in Catalonia is not the result of internal tensions within Catalonia.  It is the result of a plan by corrupt Russian businessmen and organised crime chiefs to gain control of Catalonia in order to secure the wealth they have hidden there, and to gain control of Catalonia’s economy by driving out the Spanish and European firms which were formerly based there.

The association of Russia with corruption highlights another fact about the report.

It begins with the common ritual statement that its quarrel is with President Putin and his “regime” and not with the Russian people

…..it is important to draw a distinction between Mr. Putin’s corrupt regime and the people of Russia. Many Russian citizens strive for a transparent, accountable government that operates under the democratic rule of law, and we hold hope for better relations in the future with a Russian government that reflects these demands.

In practice, as the obsession with Russian corruption all too clearly shows, the report finds it impossible to sustain this claim.  Hostility not just to Putin and his “regime” but to Russia itself is in fact present in every paragraph.

Thus the report contains a lengthy and tendentious discussion of Soviet disinformation activities during the Cold War though their relevance to what President Putin and his government are doing today is not obvious.

However the Soviets who carried out these disinformation activities were (mainly) Russians, which is obviously the reason the report discusses them at such length.

In other words Russians always and invariably engage in disinformation: they did so during the Cold War at the time of the USSR, and – because they are Russians – they are doing so again now.

Even the Russian government’s efforts to support Russian culture both at home and abroad is somehow sinister, as if the promotion of Russian culture is in itself sinister

Under Putin, the Kremlin has engaged and boosted cultural forces and religious institutions inside Russia to provide an additional bulwark against the democratic values and actors it paints as anathema to the country’s interests….

The Kremlin funds, directly or indirectly, a number of government-organized non-governmental organizations (GONGOs), nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and think tanks throughout Russia and Europe. These groups carry out a number of functions, from disseminating pro-Kremlin views to seeking to influence elections abroad.

Following a series of ‘‘color revolutions’’ in former Soviet Union republics like Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, in 2006 the Russian government established the World Coordination Council of Russian Compatriots, which is responsible for coordinating the activities of Russian organizations abroad and their communications with the Kremlin.

Some GONGOs that receive and disburse funds from the Kremlin, such as the Russkiy Mir Foundation and Rossotrudnichestvo, established in 2007 and 2008, are headquartered in Russia but have branches throughout the EU, and are led by senior Russian political figures like the foreign minister or the chair of the foreign affairs committee of the upper house of the parliament.

Kremlin-linked oligarchs also sit on the boards of many of the GONGOs.

Based on conservative estimates from publicly available data, the Kremlin spends about $130 million a year through foundations like Rossotrudnichestvo and the Gorchakov fund, and, in 2015, channeled another $103 million in presidential grants to NGOs; after including support from state enterprises and private companies, however, actual funding levels may be much higher.

Most of the Russian government’s funding is focused on post-Soviet ‘’swing states’’ like Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, and Armenia, but Kremlin-supported groups also operate in the Baltic states and the Balkans, especially Serbia and Bulgaria.

The Russkiy Mir Foundation which is referred to here is a cultural foundation and is Russia’s equivalent of the British Council and Germany’s Goethe Institute.

Rossotrudnichestvo is a Russian government agency concerned with administering civilian foreign aid programmes, principally within the territories of the former USSR.

The Gorchakov Fund is a publicly funded body intended to support Russian diplomacy (Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and former Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov are both trustees).

There is no justification for conflating the work of Rossotrudnichestvo and of the Gorchakov Fund with the quite different work of the Russkiy Mir Foundation, and it misrepresents the nature of the Russkiy Mir Foundation to do so.

Consistent with its hostility to the Russian government’s efforts to support Russian culture is the report’s intense and frankly sinister hostility to the Orthodox Church, to which the report devotes a whole chapter.  Thus we read

One prominent example is the strong ties that Putin and his inner circle have forged with the Russian Orthodox Church and its affiliates.

The Russian Orthodox Church enjoys special recognition under Russian law, while in contrast, laws such as the 2006 NGO laws and the 2016 ‘‘Yarovaya’’ package of counterterrorism laws have enabled pressure against non-Russian Orthodox religious entities through cumbersome registration processes and administrative constraints, restrictions on proselytizing, and expanded surveillance.

Additionally, the U.S. State Department has reported that the Russian state has provided security and official vehicles to the Russian Orthodox patriarch (but not to other religious leaders) and noted reports that the Russian Orthodox Church has been a ‘‘primary beneficiary’’ of presidential grants ostensibly designed to reduce NGO dependence on foreign funding.103 In return for the state’s favor, the Russian Orthodox Church has promoted Putin and the state’s policies at multiple turns.

A former editor of the official journal of the Moscow Patriarchate (the seat of the Russian Orthodox Church and its affiliated churches outside the country) told The New York Times in 2016 that ‘‘The [Russian Orthodox] church has become an instrument of the Russian state. It is used to extend and legitimize the interests of the Kremlin.’’

This is noteworthy given Putin’s roots in the KGB—the tip of the Soviet spear in restricting religious activity during the Communist era—and it reflects a careful cultivation of his identity as a man of faith and a defender of the Orthodox faithful.

The image of Putin as defender of traditional religious and cultural values has also been leveraged by the Kremlin ‘‘as both an ideology and a source of influence abroad.’’

In projecting itself as ‘‘the natural ally of those who pine for a more secure, illiberal world free from the tradition-crushing rush of globalization, multiculturalism and women’s and gay rights,’’ the Russian government has been able to mobilize some Orthodox actors in places like Moldova and Montenegro to vigorously oppose integration with the West…..

Just as the Kremlin has strengthened its relationship with the Russian Orthodox Church and used it to bolster its standing at home, the Russian Orthodox Church also serves as its proxy abroad, and the two institutions [Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Russian Orthodox Church – AM] have several overlapping foreign policy objectives……

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also used Kirill to promote a relativistic view of human rights at the United Nations, arranging for him to give a speech in 2008 (before he was Patriarch) at the UN Human Rights Council, where he bemoaned that ‘‘there is a strong influence of feministic views and homosexual attitudes in the formulation of rules, recommendations and programs in human rights advocacy.’’

According to a report by Chatham House, in Ukraine, Georgia, and Armenia, Orthodox parent committees, modelled on similar Russian Orthodox committees, have launched attacks on LGBT and feminist groups.

These committees ‘‘claim that gender equality is a Western construct intended to spread homosexuality in Eastern Europe, blaming the United States and the EU for the decay of ‘moral health’ in the respective societies.’’

The Russian Orthodox Church also enjoys strong financial backing from Kremlin-linked oligarchs Konstantin Malofeev and Vladimir Yakunin, who are both under U.S. sanctions.

In Bulgaria and Romania, the Kremlin even allegedly coopted Orthodox priests to lead anti-fracking protests.

In Moldova, senior priests have worked to halt the country’s integration with Europe (leading anti-homosexual protests and even claiming that new biometric passports for the EU were ‘’satanic’’ because they had a 13-digit number), and priests in Montenegro led efforts to block the country from joining NATO.

These comments paint Orthodox priests and believers everywhere and not just in Russia as proxies of the Kremlin, denying them any independent agency – at least when they speak out against Western cultural practices and US policies – and representing them as enemies of democracy.

To which all I can say is that Western attitudes to the Orthodox Church have witnessed an extraordinary reversal within my lifetime.

During the Soviet period the Orthodox Church was the heroic victim of Soviet persecution.  Today it is the despicable handmaiden of Russian power.  The one constant is Western hostility to the Russian government.  That never changes.

The greater part of the report is however taken up with the now standard accusations about Russia’s supposed disinformation strategy and the way Russian media agencies like RT and Sputnik are supposedly destabilising the West and are interfering in Western political processes.

There are the usual calls to counter and censor these agencies and to police social media and the internet in order to discredit or eliminate these pro-Russian voices, “pro-Russian” in this context being anyone anywhere who voices any criticisms of the foreign policy of the United States or who makes any criticisms of its domestic conditions, even if that person is an American.

This harping on Russia’s disinformation strategy is every bit as obsessive as everything else in the report.

Its starting point is the belief that Russians – including of course the Russian media – have no right to hold or express views on any question which disagree with those of the US government.

That in turn leads inexorably to the assumption that when Russians do express such views they must be acting in bad faith.

The totalitarian nature of this reasoning is obvious, but the Democratic Senators who have authored the report seem oblivious to it.

Reading the report it is in fact quite clear that its authors believe that ‘disinformation’ is what Russians do, so that the Russians are ultimately responsible for all ‘disinformation’ wherever it takes place.  Thus if a false story appears anywhere on the internet it must be the Russians who are to blame for it.

Moreover since no right thinking person could ever agree with the Russians on any issue – and certainly not on any issue which involves criticism of or disagreement with the US government – it follows that anyone who does so must be either a Russian agent or a “useful idiot”.

This is not just totalitarian thinking; it is also profoundly paranoid thinking.  At one level it demonstrates an astonishing loss of nerve.  During the Cold War it was the Soviets who placed restrictions on the flow of information.  Now the reverse is happening.  It is however the paranoia which stands out.

This is all the more ironic in that the report actually contains a chapter entitled “the Kremlin’s paranoid pathology”.

This chapter despite its title in fact contains only one passage which discusses Russian beliefs in order to show that they are paranoid

Putin’s regime and most of the Russian people view the history of the late 20th century and early 21st century in a starkly different light than most of the West does. The historical narrative popular in Russia paints this period as one of repeated attempts by the West to undermine and humiliate Russia.

In reality, the perceived aggression of the United States and the West against Russia allows Putin to ignore his domestic failures and present himself as the leader of a wartime nation: a ‘‘Fortress Russia.’’

This narrative repeatedly flogs core themes like enemy encirclement, conspiracy, and struggle, and portrays the United States, NATO, and Europe as conspiring to encircle Russia and make it subservient to the West. As part of this supposed conspiracy, the EU goes after former Soviet lands like Ukraine, and Western spies use civil society groups to meddle in and interfere with Russian affairs.

(bold italics added)

This is the only passage in the report which admits that the Russian people and President Putin and the Russian government on a specific issue believe one and the same thing.

The problem with this passage is however that the Russian beliefs it discusses cannot be described as paranoid for the simple reason that Russians are right to believe them.

Recently declassified documents have now confirmed what in truth has been known all along: that the West promised Russia on multiple occasions that NATO would not be extended eastwards, and that the West subsequently broke this promise.

Western interference in Ukraine is not a matter of opinion; it is a matter of fact.

So is Western interference in Russian domestic politics, with Time magazine for example openly bragging about the US’s role in engineering Boris Yeltsin’s fraudulent election victory in 1996.

By contrast believing that stories which appear in the Russian media and the relatively small number of often contradictory social media messages which are claimed to originate in Russia can have any significant impact on Western political processes is paranoid, as is constantly harping on about supposed Russian misdeeds even when evidence has appeared which proves they are not true (see above).

What then is the significance of this strange report?

At its most basic, the report must be seen as a shot in the bitter partisan conflict which is currently raging in the US between President Trump and his Democratic Party opponents.

That the primary target of the report is actually President Trump – who continues to say that he wants better relations with Russia – is confirmed by these words in the report

Following attacks like Pearl Harbor and 9/11, U.S. presidents have rallied the country and the world to address the challenges facing the nation. Yet the current President of the United States has barely acknowledged the threat posed by Mr. Putin’s repeated attacks on democratic governments and institutions, let alone exercised the kind of leadership history has shown is necessary to effectively counter this kind of aggression.

Never before in American history has so clear a threat to national security been so clearly ignored by a U.S. president.

The threat posed by Mr. Putin’s meddling existed before the current U.S. Administration, and may well extend beyond it. Yet, as this report will demonstrate, the Russian government’s malign influence operations can be deterred.

Several countries in Europe took notice of the Kremlin’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election and realized the danger posed to their democracies. They have taken steps to build resilience against Mr. Putin’s aggression and interference, and the range of effective measures implemented by European countries provide valuable lessons for the United States.

To that end, this report recommends a series of actions that the United States should take across government, civil society, and the private sector—and in cooperation with our allies—to push back against the Kremlin’s aggression and establish a set of long-term norms that can neutralize such efforts to undermine democracy.

Yet it must be noted that without leadership from the President, any attempt to marshal such a response will be inherently weakened at the outset

(bold italics added)

The trouble is that the paranoid language of the report shows that the Democratic Party Senators who have authored it believe what they say.

They are not conjuring up an invented threat from Russia in order to attack Donald Trump.  Rather their reason for attacking Donald Trump is first and foremost because he does not share their paranoid view of Russia.

To suppose otherwise would be both complacent and wrong.

That makes the prospect of any rapprochement taking place between the US and Russia in any foreseeable future extremely improbable, to put it mildly.

Even if this is only a minority report, the fact that it has not been ridiculed and criticised across the US for the paranoid and preposterous document that it is shows the extent to which paranoia about Russia within the US elite has become universal and internalised.

Paranoia of this intensity is not susceptible to reason or argument, and it is all but impossible to see how a rapprochement between the US and Russia is possible when there are so many powerful people in the US who hold these views.

The report also shows the intense pressure Donald Trump is under to be even tougher with Russia than the US already is.

As well as demanding the banning or restriction of “pro-Russian” voices in the media and on the internet, the authors of the report press for intensified confrontation with Russia on every possible front.

They want more military spending to confront Russia, more military deployments close to Russia’s borders, more interference in Russian domestic processes, more efforts to block Russian oil and gas exports to Europe, they want Nord Stream 2 cancelled, and they demand an almost certainly illegal prohibition on US citizens buying Russian sovereign debt.

Even if some of these demands are unworkable or are resisted, the pressure is so intense that some of them at least are likely to be implemented, whilst the prospect of any relaxation of the restrictions which are already in place quite simply is not there.

In the longer term it is difficult to avoid being deeply disturbed by all this.

Back on 12th October 2016 I wrote an article for The Duran discussing how racism against Russians has become the one form of racism which continues to be acceptable in the West, and how this racism and the ugly stereotyping of Russians to which it gives rise is dangerous because it lowers the threshold where violence against Russians becomes acceptable.

This report – with its hostile attitude towards the spread of Russian culture and to the Russian Orthodox Church, and its depiction of corruption, aggression, disinformation and organised crime activity as peculiarly Russian activities – is a case in point.

It is inconceivable that such a report could be written about the cultural, religious and information policies of any other other country – Israel or China are obvious examples – without this provoking a furious outcry.  By contrast in the case of Russia such a report not only can be published; it is widely treated as authoritative and goes unchallenged.

What the report shows is how far these anti-Russian attitudes which can be accurately called racist – and which President Putin has recently compared to anti-semitism – have become internalised even at the highest levels of the US government and of the US political elite, so that it is not only possible but even respectable to repeat them there.

That is a very worrying fact, and it is impossible to see how it can end any way but badly.

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High-ranking Ukrainian official reports on US interference in Ukraine

It is not usually the case that an American media outlet tells the truth about Ukraine, but it appears to have happened here.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The Hill committed what may well have been a random act of journalism when it reported that Ukrainian Prosecutor General, Yuriy Lutsenko, told Hill.tv’s reporter John Solomon that the American ambassador to that country, Marie Yovanovitch, gave him a “do not prosecute” list at their first meeting.

Normally, all things Russia are covered by the American press as “bad”, and all things Ukraine are covered by the same as “good.” Yet this report reveals quite a bit about the nature of the deeply embedded US interests that are involved in Ukraine, and which also attempt to control and manipulate policy in the former Soviet republic.

The Hill’s piece continues (with our added emphases):

“Unfortunately, from the first meeting with the U.S. ambassador in Kiev, [Yovanovitch] gave me a list of people whom we should not prosecute,” Lutsenko, who took his post in 2016, told Hill.TV last week.

“My response of that is it is inadmissible. Nobody in this country, neither our president nor our parliament nor our ambassador, will stop me from prosecuting whether there is a crime,” he continued.

Indeed, the Prosecutor General appears to be a man of some principles. When this report was brought to the attention of the US State Department, the response was predictable:

The State Department called Lutsenko’s claim of receiving a do not prosecute list, “an outright fabrication.” 

“We have seen reports of the allegations,” a department spokesperson told Hill.TV. “The United States is not currently providing any assistance to the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO), but did previously attempt to support fundamental justice sector reform, including in the PGO, in the aftermath of the 2014 Revolution of Dignity. When the political will for genuine reform by successive Prosecutors General proved lacking, we exercised our fiduciary responsibility to the American taxpayer and redirected assistance to more productive projects.”

This is an amazing statement in itself. “Our fiduciary responsibility to the American taxpayer”? Are Americans even aware that their country is spending their tax dollars in an effort to manipulate a foreign government in what can probably well be called a low-grade proxy war with the Russian Federation? Again, this appears to be a slip, as most American media do a fair job of maintaining the narrative that Ukraine is completely independent and that its actions regarding the United States and Russia are taken in complete freedom.

Hill.TV has reached out to the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine for comment.

Lutsenko also said that he has not received funds amounting to nearly $4 million that the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine was supposed to allocate to his office, saying that “the situation was actually rather strange” and pointing to the fact that the funds were designated, but “never received.”

“At that time we had a case for the embezzlement of the U.S. government technical assistance worth 4 million U.S. dollars, and in that regard, we had this dialogue,” he said. “At that time, [Yovanovitch] thought that our interviews of Ukrainian citizens, of Ukrainian civil servants, who were frequent visitors of the U.S. Embassy put a shadow on that anti-corruption policy.”

“Actually, we got the letter from the U.S. Embassy, from the ambassador, that the money that we are speaking about [was] under full control of the U.S. Embassy, and that the U.S. Embassy did not require our legal assessment of these facts,” he said. “The situation was actually rather strange because the funds we are talking about were designated for the prosecutor general’s office also and we told [them] we have never seen those, and the U.S. Embassy replied there was no problem.”

“The portion of the funds, namely 4.4 million U.S. dollars were designated and were foreseen for the recipient Prosecutor General’s office. But we have never received it,” he said.

Yovanovitch previously served as the U.S. ambassador to Armenia under former presidents Obama and George W. Bush, as well as ambassador to Kyrgyzstan under Bush. She also served as ambassador to Ukraine under Obama.

Former Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), who was at the time House Rules Committee chairman, voiced concerns about Yovanovitch in a letter to the State Department last year in which he said he had proof the ambassador had spoken of her “disdain” for the Trump administration.

This last sentence may be a way to try to narrow the scope of American interference in Ukraine down to the shenanigans of just a single person with a personal agenda. However, many who have followed the story of Ukraine and its surge in anti-Russian rhetoric, neo-Naziism, ultra-nationalism, and the most recent events surrounding the creation of a pseudo-Orthodox “church” full of Ukrainian nationalists and atheists as a vehicle to import “Western values” into a still extremely traditional and Christian land, know that there are fingerprints of the United States “deep state” embeds all over this situation.

It is somewhat surprising that so much that reveals the problem showed up in just one report. It will be interesting to see if this gets any follow-up in the US press.

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President Putin signs law blocking fake news, but the West makes more

Western media slams President Putin and his fake news law, accusing him of censorship, but an actual look at the law reveals some wisdom.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The TASS Russian News Agency reported on March 18th that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed off on a new law intended to block distorted or untrue information being reported as news. Promptly after he did so, Western news organizations began their attempt to “spin” this event as some sort of proof of “state censorship” in the oppressive sense of the old Soviet Union. In other words, a law designed to prevent fake news was used to create more fake news.

One of the lead publications is a news site that is itself ostensibly a “fake news” site. The Moscow Times tries to portray itself as a Russian publication that is conducted from within Russian borders. However, this site and paper is really a Western publication, run by a Dutch foundation located in the Netherlands. As such, the paper and the website associated have a distinctly pro-West slant in their reporting. Even Wikipedia noted this with this comment from their entry about the publication:

In the aftermath of the Ukrainian crisis, The Moscow Times was criticized by a number of journalists including Izvestia columnist Israel Shamir, who in December 2014 called it a “militant anti-Putin paper, a digest of the Western press with extreme bias in covering events in Russia”.[3] In October 2014 The Moscow Times made the decision to suspend online comments after an increase in offensive comments. The paper said it disabled comments for two reasons—it was an inconvenience for its readers as well as being a legal liability, because under Russian law websites are liable for all content, including user-generated content like comments.[14]

This bias is still notably present in what is left of the publication, which is now an online-only news source. This is some of what The Moscow Times had to say about the new fake news legislation:

The bills amending existing information laws overwhelmingly passed both chambers of Russian parliament in less than two months. Observers and some lawmakers have criticized the legislation for its vague language and potential to stifle free speech.

The legislation will establish punishments for spreading information that “exhibits blatant disrespect for the society, government, official government symbols, constitution or governmental bodies of Russia.”

Insulting state symbols and the authorities, including Putin, will carry a fine of up to 300,000 rubles and 15 days in jail for repeat offenses.

As is the case with other Russian laws, the fines are calculated based on whether the offender is a citizen, an official or a legal entity.

More than 100 journalists and public figures, including human rights activist Zoya Svetova and popular writer Lyudmila Ulitskaya, signed a petition opposing the laws, which they labeled “direct censorship.”

This piece does give a bit of explanation from Dmitry Peskov, showing that European countries also have strict laws governing fake news distribution. However, the Times made the point of pointing out the idea of “insulting governmental bodies of Russia… including Putin” to bolster their claim that this law amounts to real censorship of the press. It developed its point of view based on a very short article from Reuters which says even less about the legislation and how it works.

However, TASS goes into rather exhaustive detail about this law, and it also gives rather precise wording on the reason for the law’s passage, as well as how it is to be enforced. We include most of this text here, with emphases added:

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law on blocking untrue and distorting information (fake news). The document was posted on the government’s legal information web portal.

The document supplements the list of information, the access to which may be restricted on the demand by Russia’s Prosecutor General or his deputies. In particular, it imposes a ban on “untrue publicly significant information disseminated in the media and in the Internet under the guise of true reports, which creates a threat to the life and (or) the health of citizens, property, a threat of the mass violation of public order and (or) public security, or the threat of impeding or halting the functioning of vital infrastructural facilities, transport or social infrastructure, credit institutions, energy, industrial or communications facilities.”

Pursuant to the document, in case of finding such materials in Internet resources registered in accordance with the Russian law on the mass media as an online media resource, Russia’s Prosecutor General or his deputies will request the media watchdog Roskomnadzor to restrict access to the corresponding websites.

Based on this request, Roskomnadzor will immediately notify the editorial board of the online media resource, which is in violation of the legislation, about the need to remove untrue information and the media resource will be required to delete such materials immediately. If the editorial board fails to take the necessary measures, Roskomnadzor will send communications operators “a demand to take measures to restrict access to the online resource.”

In case of deleting such untrue information, the website owner will notify Roskomnadzor thereof, following which the media watchdog will “hold a check into the authenticity of this notice” and immediately inform the communications operator about the resumption of the access to the information resource.
The conditions for the law are very specific, as are the penalties for breaking it. TASS continued:

Liability for breaching the law

Simultaneously, the Federation Council approved the associated law with amendments to Russia’s Code of Administrative Offences, which stipulates liability in the form of penalties of up to 1.5 million rubles (around $23,000) for the spread of untrue and distorting information.

The Code’s new article, “The Abuse of the Freedom of Mass Information,” stipulates liability for disseminating “deliberately untrue publicly significant information” in the media or in the Internet. The penalty will range from 30,000 rubles ($450) to 100,000 rubles ($1,520) for citizens, from 60,000 rubles ($915) to 200,000 rubles ($3,040) for officials and from 200,000 rubles to 500,000 rubles ($7,620) for corporate entities with the possible confiscation of the subject of the administrative offence.

Another element of offence imposes tighter liability for the cases when the publication of false publicly significant information has resulted in the deaths of people, has caused damage to the health or property, prompted the mass violation of public order and security or has caused disruption to the functioning of transport or social infrastructure facilities, communications, energy and industrial facilities and banks. In such instances, the fines will range from 300,000 rubles to 400,000 rubles ($6,090) for citizens, from 600,000 rubles to 900,000 rubles ($13,720) for officials, and from 1 million rubles to 1.5 million rubles for corporate entities.

While this legislation can be spun (and is) in the West as anti-free speech, one may also consider the damage that has taken place in the American government through a relentless attack of fake news from most US news outlets against President Trump. One of the most notable effects of this barrage has been to further degrade and destroy the US’ relationship with the Russian Federation, because even the Helsinki Summit was attacked so badly that the two leaders have not been able to get a second summit together.

While it is certainly a valued right of the American press to be unfettered by Congress, and while it is also certainly vital to criticize improper practices by government officials, the American news agencies have gone far past that, to deliberately dishonest attacks, based in innuendo and everything possible that was formerly only the province of gossip tabloid publications. The effort has been to defame the President, not to give proper or due criticism to his policies, nor credit. It can be properly stated that the American press has abused its freedom of late.

This level of abuse drew a very unusual comment from the US president, who wondered on Twitter about the possibility of creating a state-run media center in the US to counter fake news:

Politically correct for US audiences? No. But an astute point?

Definitely.

Freedom in anything also presumes that those with that freedom respect it, and further, that they respect and apply the principle that slandering people and institutions for one’s own personal, business or political gain is wrong. Implied in the US Constitution’s protection of the press is the notion that the press itself, as the rest of the country, is accountable to a much Higher Authority than the State. But when that Authority is rejected, as so much present evidence suggests, then freedom becomes the freedom to misbehave and to agitate. It appears largely within this context that the Russian law exists, based on the text given.

Further, by hitting dishonest media outlets in their pocketbook, rather than prison sentences, the law appears to be very smart in its message: “Do not lie. If you do, you will suffer where it counts most.”

Considering that news media’s purpose is to make money, this may actually be a very smart piece of legislation.

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US continues to try to corner Russia with silence on Nukes

Moscow continues to be patient in what appears to be an ever more lopsided, intentional stonewalling situation provoked by the Americans.

Seraphim Hanisch

Published

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TASS reported on March 17th that despite Russian readiness to discuss the present problem of strategic weapons deployments and disarmament with its counterparts in the United States, the Americans have not offered Russia any proposals to conduct such talks.

The Kremlin has not yet received any particular proposals on the talks over issues of strategic stability and disarmament from Washington, Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told TASS on Sunday when commenting on the statement made by US National Security Adviser John Bolton who did not rule out that such talks could be held with Russia and China.

“No intelligible proposals has been received [from the US] so far,” Peskov said.

Earlier Bolton said in an interview with radio host John Catsimatidis aired on Sunday that he considers it reasonable to include China in the negotiation on those issues with Russia as well.

“China is building up its nuclear capacity now. It’s one of the reasons why we’re looking at strengthening our national missile defense system here in the United States. And it’s one reason why, if we’re going to have another arms control negotiation, for example, with the Russians, it may make sense to include China in that discussion as well,” he said.

Mr. Bolton’s sense about this particular aspect of any arms discussions is correct, as China was not formerly a player in geopolitical affairs the way it is now. The now all-but-scrapped Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF, was a treaty concluded by the US and the USSR leaders Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, back in 1987. However, for in succeeding decades, most notably since the fall of the Soviet Union, the US has been gradually building up weaponry in what appears to be an attempt to create a ring around the Russian Federation, a situation which is understandably increasingly untenable to the Russian government.

Both sides have accused one another of violating this treaty, and the mutual violations and recriminations on top of a host of other (largely fabricated) allegations against the Russian government’s activities led US President Donald Trump to announce his nation’s withdrawal from the treaty, formally suspending it on 1 February. Russian President Vladimir Putin followed suit by suspending it the very next day.

The INF eliminated all of both nations’ land based ballistic and cruise missiles that had a range between 500 and 1000 kilometers (310-620 miles) and also those that had ranges between 1000 and 5500 km (620-3420 miles) and their launchers.

This meant that basically all the missiles on both sides were withdrawn from Europe’s eastern regions – in fact, much, if not most, of Europe was missile-free as the result of this treaty. That is no longer the case today, and both nations’ accusations have provoked re-development of much more advanced systems than ever before, especially true considering the Russian progress into hypersonic and nuclear powered weapons that offer unlimited range.

This situation generates great concern in Europe, such that the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called on both Moscow and Washington to salvage the INF and extend the Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms, or the New START as it is known.

“I call on the parties to the INF Treaty to use the time remaining to engage in sincere dialogue on the various issues that have been raised. It is very important that this treaty is preserved,” Guterres said at a session of the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva on Monday.

He stressed that the demise of that accord would make the world more insecure and unstable, which “will be keenly felt in Europe.” “We simply cannot afford to return to the unrestrained nuclear competition of the darkest days of the Cold War,” he said.

Guterres also urged the US and Russia to extend the START Treaty, which expires in 2021, and explore the possibility of further reducing their nuclear arsenals. “I also call on the United States and the Russian Federation to extend the so-called New START Treaty before it expires in 2021,” he said.

The UN chief recalled that the treaty “is the only international legal instrument limiting the size of the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals” and that its inspection provisions “represent important confidence-building measures that benefit the entire world.”

Guterres recalled that the bilateral arms control process between Russia and the US “has been one of the hallmarks of international security for fifty years.”

“Thanks to their efforts, global stockpiles of nuclear weapons are now less than one-sixth of what they were in 1985,” the UN secretary-general pointed out.

The Treaty between the United States of America and the Russian Federation on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (the New START Treaty) entered into force on February 5, 2011. The document stipulates that seven years after its entry into effect each party should have no more than a total of 700 deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) and strategic bombers, as well as no more than 1,550 warheads on deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs and strategic bombers, and a total of 800 deployed and non-deployed ICBM launchers, SLBM launchers and strategic bombers. The new START Treaty obliges the parties to exchange information on the number of warheads and carriers twice a year.

The new START Treaty will remain in force during 10 years until 2021, unless superseded by a subsequent agreement. It may be extended for a period of no more than five years (that is, until 2026) upon the parties’ mutual consent. Moscow has repeatedly called on Washington not to delay the issue of extending the Treaty.

 

 

 

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